Nfld. & Labrador

Indigenous boaters less likely to wear life jackets, says Red Cross report on drownings

An extensive Red Cross report contains 20 years worth of research into boating-related deaths.

20-year review finds 85 per cent of deaths preventable

A Red Cross employee demonstrates proper use of PFDs. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The Red Cross released its Floatation Report on June 6, after 20 years of research, and the report found that a large number of boating fatalities could have been prevented had the victims been wearing a personal flotation device (PFD).

"We've reviewed coroner reports and other drowning-related data from the past 20 years during which time there were at least 10,511 unintentional water-related deaths in Canada ," says Rick Caissie, national vice-president of Prevention and Safety for the Canadian Red Cross.  

"Up to 85 per cent of these deaths could have been prevented by simply wearing lifejackets."

According to the report, only four per cent of people who fell overboard were wearing a PFD.

Indigenous numbers 'particular concern' 

The Red Cross also said that statistics relating to Indigenous populations were of a "particular concern."  

The report said proper life jacket use was five times lower among Indigenous victims, and that incidents involving Indigenous people often included multiple victims, including women and children.

We recognise that there is a problem.- Mariea Dredge, boating safety officer, Newfoundland and Labrador

The report also stated that Indigenous children accounted for 38 per cent of child victims, and that none of these Indigenous children were wearing a life jacket or a PFD.

"Due to culture and way of life, they spend more time on the water and in boats…that is their way of life," said Mariea Dredge, Red Cross boating safety officer for Newfoundland and Labrador.

"One of our goals over the summer in particular is get out and do some educational presentations with the First Nations communities.  We recognize that there is a problem."

Boat owners need educating

Pleasure craft operators can be fined by RCMP for not having a sufficient number of proper fitting PFDs for each individual on board the craft, Yet the study showed that many pleasure craft operators did not have any PFDs on board. 

More than 10,000 Canadians have drowned in boating accidents over the past 20 years and most didn't wear life jackets.

The report found that 34 per cent of inexperienced boaters, 33 per cent of occasional boaters, and 22 per cent of experienced boaters had no PFDs on their craft.

"Our research has actually found that the most effective way for preventing water-related fatalities is to have a legislation requiring a PFD to be worn and then to make sure that this legislation is enforced in the right way," said Dredge.

Alcohol a factor

Alcohol played a factor in many boating deaths.  Alcohol use was suspected or present in at least 43 per cent of deaths among victims over the age of 15.  

The report also noted that an individual exceeding the legal blood-alcohol limit was four times less likely to be wearing a PFD.

"It seems to be part of our culture… drinking and boating seems to mix for a lot of people," said Dredge.

The report also noted that males accounted for 93 percent of boating-related deaths.


Mark Squibb is a freelance journalist based in Conception Bay North.